Peter Mac News

Palliative care from the heart

21 May 2024

A smiling Cathy Fitzpatrick is often the first person met by patients, and their families, arriving in Peter Mac's Ward 1A. 

Screenshot 2024 05 21 at 4.30.09 pm1A ward clerk Cathy Fitzpatrick

She works on the front desk in this specialist palliative care unit which, since 2020, has been providing high-quality, patient-centred care to around 400 patients a year.

“Cathy is the glue that holds our whole team together,” explains 1A Nurse Unit Manager Holly Pitt.

“She has been with us since we opened our doors and is an enormous support to patients, families and staff. 

“She is known for her kindness, wit, enthusiasm and laughter and she works so hard to achieve outcomes all while keeping up the morale and supporting the team.”

This is National Palliative Care Week (19 to 25 May) and this year Australians are invited to get to know some of the "people at the heart of quality palliative care”.

At Peter Mac this includes Cathy, who is one of 1A's ward clerks, and also Susan Abraham (1A nurse) and Kate Lawrence (spiritual carer).

Susan recently took out the top honour for clinical excellence at the Peter Mac’s 2024 Nursing Awards. Kate is also known for her work outside of Peter Mac to raise funds to purchase uplifting items for the ward - like personalised gowns for patients, and bluetooth speakers for each of the ward’s 12 inpatient rooms. Screenshot 2024 05 21 at 4.30.23 pm1A nurse Susan Abraham

When asked to explain their jobs, the trio say they work as part of an amazing team that has a shared goal to improve the lives of patients with life-limiting illnesses. 

Palliative care is much broader than care given to patients in their final days and includes pain and symptom relief, holistic care that helps with everyday function (like walking, diet and sleep), always with a focus on improving quality-of-life and supporting the things that matter most to the patient.  

Average length of stay in Ward 1A is ten days and many patients are discharged home once they feel well enough. Patients can be supported in this way for weeks, months or even years.

It’s “not all doom and gloom” Cathy says of the one thing she wished more people knew about palliative care.  

“Palliative care can begin at any stage of the illness and can be provided alongside with curative treatment,” says Susan.

“People often live longer when their symptoms are managed by palliative care professionals,” says Kate.

Get to know Cathy, Susan and Kate more by reading their Q&As below ...

What's something completely outside of work that you do for fun or relaxation, or adds meaning to your life?KateSpiritual carer Kate Lawrence

Cathy: I go to the gym and walk after work and on my days off with various groups of friends. I love a High Tea and am an avid reader and enjoy going on holidays that my retired husband plans while I’m at work. Enjoying good restaurants with my adult sons, (usually at our expense) is always the highlight of my time away from work.

Susan: I am a mum of two beautiful girls and we as a family enjoy going for long drives. I am also into stargazing, but totally missed the Aurora last week.

Kate: I lift weights three times a week and I find it great for shifting my focus to something completely different. I also do longer physical challenges like “4 Peaks” in Bright, which is hiking four mountains in four days in November and this year I completed my first sprint triathlon.

How did you come to work in palliative care?

Cathy: Change of Career, went into voluntary work at Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) emergency department and took a job in a small private hospital. Saw a job advertised in Palliative Care at RMH and decided to apply. That was the start of a new career which led to taking up the Ward Clerk position opening a ward in Peter Mac.

Susan: I started my nursing career as a grad nurse in a palliative care ward and loved it from day one. I moved on to oncology / haematology nursing for a few years however palliative care nursing remained my passion. I recognised the profound impact it has on patients and their families during one of the most difficult times in their life. So, when the opportunity arose, I joined Ward 1A.

Kate: When I began exploring what would be more meaningful work, I was very drawn to accompanying people at end of life. It took some time to find Spiritual Care and to be able to offer it as a non-religious person.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about palliative care?

Cathy: That it is not all doom and gloom. We have some very positive happy experiences, meet a lot of people and hear great stories of patients’ lives up to this point, and families often walk away sad but content with how their family member or friend spent their last days.

Susan: Palliative care is not just about end-of-life care. It is a comprehensive approach aiming to provide the best possible quality of life to individuals with a terminal illness. Palliative care can begin at any stage of the illness and can be provided alongside with curative treatment. It is about holistic support of the individual.

Kate: That people often live longer when their symptoms are managed by palliative care professionals. Being admitted to palliative care does not automatically mean that the person is imminently dying.

In simple terms, what does "quality palliative care" mean to you?

Cathy: That the patient and family feel they are not alone, that they are supported and that their wishes and concerns are treated respectfully.

Susan: Quality palliative care to me is about enhancing the overall quality of life of the patient. It involves addressing their physical symptoms, emotional wellbeing, facilitating meaningful communication and honouring their values and preferences. It’s about being there for people during their most vulnerable time, helping them find comfort, dignity and peace.

Kate: Quality palliative care means helping the person live their life in the best way possible for them in the time that they have. It is about supporting the person and their family as whole people with all their complexity and diversity, respecting their agency and dignity.